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Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and the absence of news

Photographers surround a family member of a passenger.

EPA

Photographers surround a family member of a passenger.

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Two weeks into the story of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, there is still remarkably little known about the airliner’s fate. But there has been plenty of public speculation — from current airline pilots, former airline pilots, professors, consultants, analysts, Redditors, and rock stars. Many of their baseless theories have gotten airtime on cable news, or serious play on websites that pass around click-worthy rumors in the name of aggregation. Over the course of just a few minutes midday Wednesday, CNN — the most flight-obsessed of the cable news networks — aired interviews with a flight instructor, an aviation analyst, a group of Malaysian fishermen who said they once saw a low-flying aircraft, and a “survivalist” who hosts a TV show called “Naked and Afraid.”

This is the trouble with the 24-hour news cycle: It’s poorly equipped to handle situations that involve only two minutes worth of actual news. To their credit, reporters and producers are working hard to uncover new angles. Some of the details that have been discussed, about aviation, satellites, and air crashes in general, have been illuminating in themselves. But any “news” item that begins with “It’s possible that . . . ” is reason to reach for the clicker, and tune back in when real information emerges.

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